As with most professions, there are always things as a filmmaker that you wish you'd known earlier. Simple pieces of advice, tricks or tips about your industry that might have helped you get further along than where you are today. Hindsight is 20/20, as "they" say. Well, my goal as a (according to my mom) successful filmmaker is to bestow upon you the advice I wish I had been given when I started out. Something that amounts to what I'd hope is at least 20/40 foresight vision. Here it goes!
1. Be a good person.
I know this comes across as a giant “Duh, Anna” but kindness and empathy are essential qualities to have when you work in an industry that runs off referrals and recommendations from your peers. This goes for everyone - from heads of departments to PAs and interns. I’ve heard horror stories from my assistants about other jobs where a producer or department head is mean or stressfully condescending. I have no tolerance for that – we are all here to do a job together, and everyone’s time and talent should be appreciated. If you are kind, people will want to be around you. So essentially, kindness = more work. Yay!
2. Say yes.
During a lunch break on a recent shoot, a group of us were discussing how we got our starts in the industry. The unanimous response was, “We said yes to everything!” I agree with this 100%. Hands down, the absolute best way to learn about filmmaking is to work on set. I jumped on many PA jobs while still in film school, many unpaid so I could understand exactly how a film set worked. Take PA jobs, take internships, take assistant positions, learn how to edit - say yes to as many roles as you can while you are still green!
3. Get uncomfortable.
During my PA years, I also volunteered to work in departments I knew less about, like camera – so that I could be well-versed in all aspects of production. I remember having to load actual film in and out of a camera for the first time on set. I was sweating bullets, convinced I was going to ruin the all of the footage these people I barely knew had just worked all day to get. Thankfully everything turned out fine, and I can now say that it is something I have successfully done. Now as a director and art director, I have been told numerous times by producers that they appreciate the fact that I am able to wear so many hats on set. It makes my decision making that much more informed. Also, having multiple skill sets makes it easier to produce your own projects.
4. Be on time.
In a world full of traffic jams, subway delays, slow walkers and alarm clocks that mysteriously fail to go off, it is easy to have an excuse for being late. No, it is not going to kill your career if it happens occasionally, but trust me, chronic tardiness is a bad look. It will overshadow your talents and frustrate your peers. By consistently being on time, you are showing your peers that you value their time and that you also value the work you do. It is unfortunately one of those traits that often goes without verbal gratitude, but just know it is definitely appreciated!
5. Ask questions.
I still ask questions when I don’t know the answers to things. Chances are, someone around you does know, and by asking and getting an answer, now you do too; best way to learn. I think some people are afraid to do this because they think it makes it look like they don’t know what they are doing. It doesn’t, I promise!
6. Stand up for yourself. This one applies mainly to females, but is useful for everyone. If you are a woman working in an industry historically dominated by men, you may sometimes find yourself in the position of having to defend your talents and abilities. It is frustrating that it is 2017 and we are still dealing with this, I know, but discrimination based on gender (or sexuality, or race) still occasionally happens. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something as well as someone else solely because of who you are. We all share a passion for the same art form, and that should lead to inclusion, not exclusion! Some of the most talented cinematographers, directors and grips I know are female, and they are amazing! Do what you love, and people will love you for it